COVID-19: Walmart closes as outbreak grows, Delta variant confirmed locally

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    Walmart to reopen Friday

    By Randi Pierce

    Staff Writer

    Late Wednesday morning, Walmart announced it would temporarily close its Pagosa Springs supercenter location at 211 Aspen Village Drive as part of a company-initiated program to allow third-party cleaning crews time to thoroughly clean and sanitize the building. 

    The closure began at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and the store is slated to reopen on Friday, July 2, at 7 a.m.

    On June 23, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Pagosa Springs Walmart, with five employees having tested positive at that time.

    An outbreak is defined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as five or more cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period.

    As of June 29, SJBPH reported, 10 employees had tested positive and additional close contacts were under investigation.

    The outbreak was first identified on June 12, SJBPH reported in a press release Wednesday, with that press release also noting the decision to close the store was made by Walmart.

    Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response, told The SUN Wednesday two of the cases were in vaccinated individuals, six were in unvaccinated individuals and two were in individuals whose vaccination status was unknown.

    “We know there’s an awful lot of exposures, especially unvaccinated staff exposures, so we know we have a high testing demand,” Devine said.

    “All positive cases were put on isolation and those identified as unvaccinated close contacts were put on quarantine,” the press release reads. “The investigation is ongoing and SJBPH will continue to evaluate information regarding this and all cases as received.”

    “This is one of the largest outbreaks we’ve investigated to-date in Archuleta County. With the more severe Delta variant spreading, this outbreak should serve as a reminder for unvaccinated residents to get the vaccine and protect themselves and their families as soon as possible,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “We appreciate all efforts on behalf of local businesses to keep our community safe and Walmart Pagosa Springs has been a strong partner in this work. SJBPH has a public health advisory in effect and we remind the community that face coverings in public indoor spaces are highly recommended.”

    Walmart issued a statement Wednesday in announcing the store closure.

     “Everything we’re doing is for the well-being of our associates and customers, and in consideration of guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health experts. When the store reopens Friday, we will continue conducting associate health assessments, and all unvaccinated associates must still wear face coverings,” the statement reads. 

    It continues, “These protocols are in addition to the extensive measures we’ve put in place during the pandemic to help protect our associates and customers. We will continue working closely with elected and local health officials, adjusting how we serve the community while also keeping the health and safety of our customers and associates in mind.”

    Walmart’s announcement comes on the heels of the COVID Delta (B.1.617.2) variant being confirmed in multiple individuals in Archuleta County, though Devine noted it is too early to know if any of the cases related to the Walmart outbreak are the variant.

    Devine reported the Delta variant has been confirmed in 33 counties in Colorado so far.

    “If it’s not already in every county in Colorado, it certainly will be soon,” he said. “And it does seem like Delta is expected to become the dominant variant across the United States, just as it did in the United Kingdom.”

    According to SJBPH, the Delta variant was first detected in India and is widely regarded by public health experts to be one of the most transmissible and severe variants of COVID-19 to date. 

    The agency’s press release explains that variant sequencing indicates that most new cases of COVID-19 in Colorado are now the Delta variant strain. 

    In the press release, SJBPH emphasizes that vaccination, especially completion of a vaccine series, is the best means of protection against the Delta variant. 

     “Unvaccinated residents are at higher risk of falling ill with the Delta variant of COVID-19 and are urged to get the vaccine as soon as possible. According to State records, more than 98% of confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred in the unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated population since January 2021,” the press release states. 

     In the document, SJBPH also continues urging community members to get vaccinated, stay home when feeling unwell, wear a mask in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, maintain physical distancing in public indoor settings, wear face coverings while using public transportation, practice good hygiene, and get tested if you have symptoms or if you are unvaccinated and believe you were exposed. 

    SJBPH’s advisory can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

     The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.

    Local COVID numbers

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,032 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020.

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 5 percent positivity Wednesday and had a seven-day cumulative incidence rate 78.60 cases per 100,000 people -— up from 57.10 the previous week.

    Half of the county’s total population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, as of Wednesday, with 47 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series.

    Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 57 percent has received at least one dose, while 54 percent have completed a vaccine series.

    Devine reported Wednesday that SJBPH’s service area is on track to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of having at least 70 percent of the population have at least one vaccine dose by the Fourth of July.

    Vaccine clinics,
    promotions continue

    In addition to local providers continuing to offer vaccines, multiple vaccine clinics offering both the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are again on the calendar that will offer vaccine incentives while supplies last.

    The two-shot Pfizer vaccine is available to those 12 and older, and the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine to those 18 and older.

    Devine noted that those looking to have their school-age, vaccine-eligible children fully vaccinated before the start of the next school year should begin the process now since the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses and it takes six weeks to have full protection once the vaccine series begins.

    The Jogan Health Mobile Unit will be set up at Pagosa Springs High School, 800 S. 8th St., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, July 1.

    On July 2 and 4, the mobile unit will be at the East Side Market, located on the east end of town, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

    On July 6, the mobile unit will be at Pagosa Peak Open School, located at 7 Parelli Way, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. offering only the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

    On July 8, the unit will be back at the high school from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    Walk-ins are welcome at all of the clinics, though appointments are preferred.

    Minors must have a signed parental consent form, which can be completed online when registering or at the clinic.

    For more information on the vaccines, area vaccine providers or area vaccine clinics (including making an appointment), visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.

    For more information about vaccine types, safety and eligibility, call (877) 268-2926. To speak to SJBPH call handlers, call (970) 247-5702.

    Under the Vaxx for Scratch promotion available in Archuleta County, “Any resident age 18 or older who receives COVID vaccination at a SJBPH clinic in Archuleta County will be offered a $10 Scratch ticket while supplies last. The Scratch tickets have a top prize of up to $500,000,” a SJBPH press release outlines.

    In addition to local incentives, the state is also continuing its weekly Colorado Comeback Cash $1 million drawings and Comeback Cash Scholarship drawings.

    To be eligible for the final Colorado Comeback Cash drawing, individuals must have received at least one dose of a vaccine by midnight on June 30.

    Testing available locally

    Testing continues to be available through multiple providers, and SJBPH provides free COVID-19 testing in partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday behind the Pagosa Springs Medical Center building at 95 S Pagosa Blvd.

    For more information on COVID-19 testing and more, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org.

    randi@pagosasun.com